Every game matters for the Utah Jazz in securing a favorable seed for the upcoming NBA playoffs.
That's why a four-game homestand, starting with Monday's contest against the Phoenix Suns, is so pivotal. The Jazz are battling with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference standings and are coming off a 114-83 win over Chicago on Saturday night.
Climbing the ladder will require running off some victories inside their home arena this week. The Jazz generated some good momentum against the Bulls to snag their third win over a four-game road trip.
Utah held Chicago to 36 percent shooting - including 2-of-16 from 3-point range. That defensive effort helped the Jazz race out to a 70-36 halftime lead, which represented the largest halftime lead in a road game in franchise history.
"We started the game the right way defensively and that carries over on offense," Utah center Rudy Gobert told KSL.com after the game.
Gobert set the tone with an all-around solid performance that led to his 58th double-double of the season. He finished with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting and added 14 rebounds, two assists and four blocked shots - after failing to block a shot during his previous two games.
The Jazz bounced back in impressive fashion after squandering a late lead against Atlanta. They cut down on the mental mistakes that doomed them against the Hawks.
Utah coach Quin Snyder was encouraged with what he saw on Saturday night.
"I liked how we started the game. I thought we were focused on the defensive end," Snyder told the team website. "I just want us to keep getting better."
Phoenix has seen a promising start to March evaporate over the course of the month. The Suns lost for the fifth time in six games after falling to the Sacramento Kings 112-103 on Saturday night.
Phoenix led by as many as 14 points in the first half before the Kings rallied and finally overtook the Suns after halftime. Sacramento went 17-of-38 from 3-point range to surge past Phoenix.
"We started out good, but we've just got to sustain that lead and not get complacent," Suns guard Devin Booker told the Arizona Republic. "When you have a 15-point lead, build on it and we didn't do that."
Defensive struggles have been a recurring theme for the Suns in March. Over the team's past eight games, Phoenix has held just one opponent under 110 points. The Suns have posted a 113.2 defensive rating in that stretch.
Sloppiness on offense has contributed to the porous defense. Phoenix is allowing a league worst 20.6 points per game off turnovers over the past eight games.
Injuries have made it tougher for the Suns to find consistency. Josh Jackson (right ankle sprain), Tyler Johnson (sore right knee), Kelly Oubre Jr. (left thumb sprain) and T.J. Warren (right ankle soreness) are all out, leaving Phoenix with a shortened bench.
Jimmer Fredette signed with the Suns to give them some veteran depth in the backcourt and made his NBA return on Saturday. Fredette finished with zero points and two rebounds in four minutes.
Utah has beaten Phoenix twice this season, winning 116-88 on Feb. 6 and 114-97 on March 13. Donovan Mitchell averaged 23.5 points in the two victories while Gobert averaged 17.0 points, 16.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks.
--Field Level Media